Time honored traditions


As I turned the lights out last Tuesday night, the last thing imprinted on my mind were the plastic bags with fruit, flowers, parupu thengai and silver vessels laid out on the kitchen island. A day of meticulous preparation and gathering of items needed for a puja the next day at the temple.

In my closet, the overhead light fixture throwing off a bright glare, Amma and I picked out my sari and clothes needed for the next day. Setting them all on the dresser for the next morning, I bid good night even as a wave of affection overcame me.

Slipping under the covers, images of nine yard saris, flickering homam fire and riotous colors rushed past my eyes as I dropped into sleep. The alarm went off at 4:30 AM and the next few hours were a blur.

Driving along scenic, winding roads, my eyes were on the clock. Would we make it to the temple on time? A croak behind me ensured we would not. Pattu threw up and the next half hour was a detour to get her cleaned up and resume our journey.

Stepping off the car into the chill morning, I realized we had overestimated the day’s warmth. The kids shivered and as I bundled my jacket over them and pulled my pallu a little tighter around my shoulders, I realized no amount of preparation would be enough. Lugging bags inside an empty temple, we made our way to the hall where the priest awaited us.

Flowers, fruits, vermilion, turmeric lay spread before us in trays. The two of us sat side by side, bound by ties of marriage and impending parenthood offering prayers and invoking blessings from the nature gods. Water, Earth, Air, Fire, Sky. Pausing every once in a while to prostrate to Gods and the elders, the events of the morning proceeded from one dais to a smaller room where Agni was invoked. Chanting hymns and following along, I felt like a mute spectator in the puppet show that is my life. Participating yet feeling detached from the happenings, I was the observer and the observed. In those few hours, I felt like a speck in the cosmos.

As the rituals wound down and Saathi parted my hair with the quill from a porcupine and I watched my children mash the buds from a banyan tree in milk, I realized I was part of a time honored hoary tradition. One of invoking divine blessings for me and my child to be. For a safe delivery and rebirth. One that ensured that my child would be one of sharp intellect and gentle demeanor.

Bending our heads as a family to receive the blessings of the priest at the very end, I felt happy. The kind of happiness that comes from knowing I controlled little of what was happening to me. The Goddess I was paying obeisance to would take care of me and my progeny. With that knowledge came a strange kind of deliverance. And freedom.


Author. Parent.

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